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Air quality issue in Canterbury mobile dental clinic


May 16, 2014

Air quality issue in Canterbury mobile dental clinic being addressed

Canterbury District Health Board has taken immediate action to resolve air quality issues in one of its 22 mobile community dental clinics where higher than expected concentrations of airborne formaldehyde have been found.

Dan Coward, Canterbury DHB General Manager who oversees the mobile dental service, says, WorkSafe NZ were immediately informed of the issue and have worked with Canterbury DHB on a plan of action and all other mobile clinics have also been tested as a precaution.

“As part of our plan, an independent occupational health physician Dr Andrew Hilliard has been engaged by Canterbury DHB to ensure that appropriate actions have been identified and actioned.”

Dr Hilliard has stated publicly that the risk to staff who worked in the clinic is very low and for the general public who have spent a short time there, it is negligible.

“Airborne formaldehyde is common in low concentrations in the home as well as indoor working environments, particularly where certain materials such as MDF, particle board and plywood have been used in construction.

“At the kind of concentrations found, it can be an irritant and some people may experience acute symptoms such as itchy eyes, a headache or sore throat.

“More rarely, it may even make pre-existing conditions such as asthma or bronchitis worse. These effects quickly diminish once you leave that environment and long term effects, even from prolonged exposure to much higher concentrations, are extremely rare.”

Dr Hilliard says in this instance the perceived risk is always greater than the actual.

“While I support the remedial action CDHB is taking, in this case the risk to people’s health is very low,” he says.

Mr Coward says none of the mobile dental clinics will return service until the Canterbury DHB is satisfied they are a suitable environment for parents and children alike.

“Our mobile community dental service is critical to being able to provide dental services through schools and in more rural parts of Canterbury and we are keen to resume normal services as soon as possible.”

Mr Coward also wanted to emphasise that the Canterbury DHB has also taken its mobile dental staff concerns about having worked in the vans seriously.

“How staff feel about an issue is often just as important as resolving the issue itself, which is why we have been working hard to offer staff information, reassurance from an independent expert, and support,” Dan says.


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